The word ‘genre’ means type or style. There are genres for books and films such as romance, horror, science fiction and fantasy. Similarly there are genres or types of writing that are appropriate for university writing. Each genre has different features and structure. Not every university assignment will be structured in the same way.

There are different audiences for certain genres or styles of books and movies. For example, Romance tends to appeal to women more than men, Science Fiction appeals to people with a particular interest in inventions, the future and so. Similarly there are different audiences at which certain pieces of university writing are targeted. You may argue that all university writing is targeted at your lecturer or tutor. This is true, but one also needs to think about who the ‘real life’ audience is. Many styles of university writing are aimed at specific ‘real life’ audiences with specific needs to find out certain types of information.

Audiences need to find out certain types of information and this is linked to the purpose of the text or why it was written. For example, the purpose of the Horror genre in everyday life is to terrify the reader or viewer and to maintain a level of suspense. While you are unlikely to be sitting on the edge of your seat when reading university genre, an examination of them will reveal that they too have different purposes.

The purpose and audience which is associated with a particular genre or style of writing also influences how the writing sounds or the tone. Tone influences whether the writing should sound objective (impersonal and factual) or whether it is acceptable for it to be more conversational and personal.

There are many genres that are used at university. Sometimes you will be set a task that crosses two or more genres. While this can be confusing, if you have some idea of the major genres, you are at least in a position to ask some questions about what the lecturer is expecting you to produce.

There are probably eight major genres that you will find at university. The table below lists them and summarises the purpose, audience, tone and structure of each of these academic genres.

Genre Purpose Audience Tone Features
Research essay • To answer a set question
• To present your argument based on the texts you read
• Your peers or other students and lecturers
• The academic community
• Factual
• Concise
• Logical flow
• Clear structure
• Active voice
• Discusses and critiques a range of views and justifies why a particular view is argued.
• Introduction
• Body
• Conclusion
• Usually written without headings
Literature review • To identify key ideas across the literature
• To explain and identify the range of views of academics on a topic
• Finds a ‘gap’ for research
• Researchers
• Academics
• Workplace peers
• Formal
• Objective
• Tentative opinions about ideas proposed in the texts you have read.
• Evaluates research
• Introduction, body, conclusion, usually without headings
• Explains the main ideas focussing on similarities and differences, and includes critical comments
Annotated bibliography • To identify key articles on a topic
• To evaluate the usefulness of articles in relation to a topic
• To inform others
• Researchers
• Academics
• Workplace peers
• Formal
• Objective
• Critical comments about the usefulness and quality of the texts
• Title of work listed alphabetically by author
• Indented 1 or 2 paragraph summary and critique in relation to topic
Reflective writing • To think about your understanding and learning
• To reflect on your thinking
• To understand how and what you have learned
• Yourself • Conversational
• Thinking aloud
• Can use ‘I’
• Not necessarily formal, but still clear
• Refers to texts, lectures and practical situations
• Makes links between formal learning and personal meaning
Lab/prac report • To explain what you did
• To draw
• Peers
• Researchers – wanting to replicate or understand exactly what you did
• Past tense
• Step by step
• Clear
• Objective
• Mostly passive voice
• Introduction
• Methods
• Results
• Discussion
• (IMRD) – written as headings
Case study • Examine a situation
• Identify:
-positives (strengths)
-negatives (weaknesses)
– useful features
-less useful features
• Makes recommendations
• Professionals not always academics
• Whoever commissioned the report
• Politicians or bureaucrats
• The public
• Factual
• Authoritative
• Concise
• Easy to follow
• Numbered Headings:
o Table of contents
o Executive summary
o Introduction
o Content derived headings in the body, but not called ‘body’!
o Conclusion
o Recommendations
• Glossary (if you need to explain terms)
• Appendices (for information referred to but too much to include in the text)
Critical review • To evaluate or critique a book or article, or in the case of research, to evaluate the data, research method and results • Peers
• Interested people in your profession
• Analytical
• Evaluative
• Present tense
• Active voice
• No headings
• Brief summary
• Comments on the quality of the work
Research proposal • To outline a possible research plan
• To justify expenditure of funds or to justify why research should be carried out
• Academics or research funding bodies
• Business or public organisations, such as Non Governmental Organisations (NGO’s)
• Justification to convince the reader that funding should be made available or that the research project is justifiable
• Facts supported by evidence
• Strong links between sections
• Past tense (for work completed)
• Future tense (for proposed work)
• Present tense (for current situation)
• Title page
• Acknowledgements
• Executive summary or abstract
• Table of contents
• Intro (as a heading) which may include a literature review. For a research proposal the literature review may be a separate section.
• Body (no heading) using headings based on content of report/proposal
• Expected outcomes or conclusion(s)
• References or bibliography

The concept maps and examples of each of these styles of writing below will further help you to understand how these genres are constructed. Remember that there will always be differences in requirements between discipline areas, but once you have some understanding of the general principles, you will be able to fine-tune requirements to suit the tasks set in your discipline. Use these maps and examples of each genre as an example, but always check exact requirements with your lecturer.

These tasks are often set to introduce students to researching and to encourage them to evaluate the sources they read. They are set out with the reference at the top (author and date and publishing details). The reference is followed by one or two paragraphs commenting on the main features of the text in relation to the topic. There is always some critical component where the student comments on the usefulness, relevance and strengths and weaknesses of the source.

Here is an example of a topic, and one entry for the following annotated bibliography task:

Compile an annotated bibliography in order to examine theories of criminal behaviour and explain how they could inform your work.

Briggs, J. (2011) Genetics or Social Inequality: Criminal Behaviour and the Social Justice System, Sydney: Prentice Hall.
This book deals with the difference between social learning theory and concepts of criminality that are based on medical and genetic models. It is a useful basic text because the concepts are explained simply and clearly. The author argues that there is a case for both genetics and social learning theory views when considering the reasons for criminal behaviour, however there is little research evidence cited to support this view.
The most important feature

of the book is the way in which the author explains the evolution of these two major approaches and how she sees the two sets of ideas working together through case study examples. This makes the text useful for beginning students, because exposure to practical situations forces readers to question their own attitudes to society and crime, and allows them to begin to formulate their own theoretical stance.

Annotated Bibliography png

This is probably one of the most commonly set assignments at university. This is where you are asked a question and by researching and weighing up the research and evidence you have to come up with a reasoned and defendable response to the question. Below is an example of an essay topic for a research essay and a sample introductory paragraph.

Is gender inequality a feature of the past? Discuss.

The extent to which gender inequality has been eliminated is an issue of debate amongst sociologists. While there are arguments claiming that gender equality has been widely achieved, there are significant arguments which suggest otherwise. The view that will be presented in this paper is that while legislation and affirmative action have in many ways produced a gender balanced world, the competitive nature of society has limited gender equality, especially amongst those who are most disadvantaged. This argument will be centered around legislation, the work place and the domestic domain, with particular reference to women from lower socio-economic, indigenous and migrant backgrounds.

Research Essay png

Literature reviews are often set to encourage students to examine research widely and in depth. They require students to give an overview of the range of ideas in the literature by identifying the main themes or the areas in which there is either agreement and disagreement or similarities and differences in the findings of researchers. Often when conducting a literature review, it is clear that there is an area of the topic that has not been researched or has not been researched in a particular way. This is known as a ‘gap’ in the research and the student can then conduct actual research into that gap. For this reason, literature reviews nearly always precede actual research projects. Here is an example of a literature review topic and a sample of an introductory paragraph.

Review the literature on the usefulness of art therapy as a counselling strategy.

Art has been used as a form of therapy since the early sixties, yet there is still controversy about its usefulness as a counseling strategy. The literature can be roughly divided into three areas: research which considers the usefulness of art therapy for clients with every day adjustment issues; for clients suffering from significant trauma; and its use as a family counselling strategy. An examination of this literature seems to suggest that art therapy is most effective with clients suffering trauma, however methodological inconsistencies in the research make it difficult to make this claim with much certainty.

The Literature Review png

The aim of reflective writing is to encourage you to think about what you are learning and to apply your formal learning through readings and classes to practical situations (often work situations). Reflective writing in the form of blogs (logs on the web or web logs) and journals are often set as weekly tasks, therefore they tend to be somewhat brief. Reflective essays are often much longer and they tend to require the student to reflect on the whole course or a significant part of it. Part of this reflection requires the student to consider which aspects of the course will be most useful, how the ideas will work when the student applies them to their profession and so on. Whether you are writing a reflective journal or blog or essay, you are nearly always required to ‘think aloud’ about what you have learned and to make links between formal learning and personal meaning or practice. Here is an example of a reflective writing topic and an example paragraph.

Read the case provided and reflect on what you have learned about the policy and practice issues involved in community development projects.

One of the most important lessons for me from this case study was that while theory simplifies ideas and processes, reality is a lot more complex. The text and lectures suggest a three step approach to intervention which takes account of the community, the organisation and policy issues. In this particular case study, these steps were not followed sequentially. Additionally the researchers paid much attention to the contextual issues which significantly slowed the intervention process down. As a practitioner it might be tempting to pay less attention to context in order to speed up the process, however, in this situation speeding up the process would have had a major detrimental effect on the success of the program. This is an important lesson for me because I tend to like to see results quickly, but in sensitive situations, quick results may not be the most effective results.

Reflective Writing png

Case studies are often used in disciplines like Business, Tourism, Environmental Studies, Education, Psychology and Social Sciences. They are not structured in the same way as cases are examined for example, in Law and Legal Studies. The most important thing to remember about non- legal case studies is that the case study analyses, examines and makes recommendations about a situation or problem. Headings are used and paragraphs may be shorter than in most academic essays. Additionally there may be some use of bullet points (which is unusual in most other forms of academic writing). The sections of the case study are well linked, so for example, the problem is defined, strategies to deal with the problem are suggested and evaluated, and as a result of this evaluation, certain recommendations are made.

Check the genre summary chart (above) for some possible headings to use in case studies (for example, Table of contents, Executive summary or Abstract), but remember that you may need to generate headings appropriate to your topic, in the body of the report.

While there are many different types of case studies, and it is difficult to cover the full range of possible case study assignments that might be set, it is important to keep in mind the five C’s of case studies. They should be:

• Clear (straightforward language, clear headings)
• Concise (they should be easy to read and understand)
• Credible (based on facts and research)
• Critical (consider both the positives and negatives or advantages and disadvantages as well as noteworthy points)
• Connected (as you read each section you should be able to understand how it deals with the issues raised in the previous section)

Finally, most case studies include an abstract or executive summary (which includes a brief summary from each section at the beginning of the report). This is a summary of the whole report so that a reader can gain a good idea of what the report is about before reading all of the details. Here is an example of a case study topic and an abstract which is essentially the case study in brief. Unlike an introductory paragraph in most essays, the abstract summarises every section of the case study report including the conclusions.

Ring Dong Hotels is planning to build a resort in Luza (Genosst Islands). Design a survey that will be used to find out what the local inhabitants think about the development. Your survey must be based on research which highlights the kinds of issues that the people may face.

Ring Dong Hotels is proposing the development of a new resort near the village of Luza, in the Genosst Islands. Since the people of this region have had little exposure to development, a surveny was designed to investigate their perceptions about the ways in which a resort might impact their culture, standard of living and health. To identify this information, an ethnographic survey using interpreters was chosen in order to identify the concerns of the people. The survey parameters were limited to issues of lifestyle and health. The survey was originally designed to be carried out on local villagers, but aid and health workers were later also included in the survey because they were found to have an in-depth understanding of the needs of the people. Pilot research suggests that the survey is particularly useful in identifying local concerns and that it can also be used as a vehicle for discussion to allay fears. This survey information can be used to minimise the impact of the development on these people.

You will notice some words in italics. These are to show you how the report is linked. You will also notice how each part of the report is summarised in the abstract (see the text on the left hand side of the page). You will find further examples of case studies written by Non Government Organisations (NGO’s) and other organisations on the internet. These will give you some guidance about what case studies might look like in your particular discipline.

The Case Study png

Critical reviews are sometimes set in statistics and research subjects to engage students in the business of evaluating research design and methodology. However, reviews are common across disciplines and subject areas and are important because they highlight the importance of questioning and critiquing, rather than simply accepting other people’s ideas without question.

Critical reviews are something like book reviews that you might have done at school, however, their focus is on in-depth analysis and evaluation of a source and less on summarizing and responding personally. In some sense, it is similar to the type of annotation you might write for an annotated bibliography, but it is much more detailed. Here is an example of a critical review topic and a sample introductory paragraph.

A critical review of: The relationship between green tea consumption and longevity by Johnson, P. (2011)

This comprehensive cross cultural study examined the type and quantity of green tea that was consumed by a large sample of men and women who were over 80 years of age. The author found a strong correlation between the number of cups consumed per day and the number of years people lived beyond 80 years. While these findings seem convincing in terms of the health benefits of green tea, the study did not consider the amount of black tea that the participants drank. Studies, for example, the work of Goran et al (2010) found that both black and green tea consumption increased longevity to a similar extent. Thus Johnson’s study may be misleading by suggesting that green tea alone is related to longevity.

The Critical Review png

This is written before a research project is undertaken. A research proposal outlines the type of research to be undertaken, how it will be conducted and why it is necessary. A major part of the research proposal is a literature review which outlines the current state of knowledge in the field and identifies a gap or the exact area the researcher intends to study (see the discussion on the literature review earlier in this chapter).

A similar task is a funding proposal. In the workplace, professionals who are asking for funding for a project, have to contextualize their work by writing a literature review; they then need to outline how they will run their project by explaining exactly what funds they will need and how the money will be spent (often via a detailed budget). This is a less common academic task for students but it takes the same general form as a research proposal. These proposals usually have headings and sub-headings (often numbered) and are well-linked between sections.

Here is an example topic and introduction for a research proposal:

An examination of the relationship between the existence of triangular womtegoms and the amount of sunlight that penetrates residential swimming pools.

The existence of triangular womtegoms in swimming pools and ponds has been documented since at least the early 1960’s. Initially researchers focused on their feeding patterns and their effect on water purity. More recently research has focused specifically on the ways in which sunlight patterns affect their populations and how appropriate swimming pool placement might diminish their populations. The current project aims to examine not only pool placement, but will also test the effectiveness of sunscreens – both physical and chemical. If sunscreens can diminish populations of triangular womtegoms, pool water will be purer and need fewer chemicals, such as harsh chlorine-based solutions. This will improve swimmers’ health, and reduce expenses associated with pool maintenance.

The Research Proposal png

Requirements for these can vary, but there are common features. The most important thing to remember is that the purpose of a practical write-up is to explain exactly what you did, to explain why you used some techniques and not others and then to try to make sense of your results in the light of results from other similar studies. It is important that you explain accurately and in detail, exactly what you did, so that another experimenter would be able to carry out your experiment in the same way and compare results.

An example from the method section of a lab report, showing use of the passive voice:

Three wide mouth jars (capacity 40 mls each) were labeled, sterilized and filled with a solution of bysobene (2mg), dipton (4mg) and sterilized water (20 mls). The jars were placed in the incubator for five hours at a temperature of 38° C.

The Practical or Lab Report png

Reflection and Conclusion

Being familiar with genres

There are many genres covered in this chapter. Do not be concerned about the amount of information at this point. Come back to this chapter and check the requirements of particular genres that you are set when the time arises.

Which genres are most familiar to you at this point? Which styles of writing do you imagine you might encounter in your course of study?

Which aspects of this section do you think will be most useful to you in your studies?